Below the Line by Ryan Harper

How the world can go flat fast
in fits and starts I do not know,
descending the Blue Ridge Escarpment,
falling water everywhere,
full with the daily summer deluge,
following the white bands off the cliffs,
to dixie, end of gravity.

Under the weight of southern
summers we are walking
underwater, bearing the slow
and unrelenting tug backward,
without the icy refreshments
of the deep, the thrills
of drastic currents,
the grim satisfactions
of the desert way.

We compulsory amphibians
nod between silk-tree anemones,
through pods of columbine,
trout lilies, divers late blooms,
all things sprinkled, some immersed;
we the treaded submersibles
crawl on Bermuda grass,
groping into kudzu reefs.

You breathe differently down here.
You knew this in your own country,
but knowledge is one fragile thing;
with it you will not effect
the measure, the pace,
alone. There are faces
looking toward the sun here;
they are not the pale ones—

they the composite primes,
the chambered hulls hovering,
suspended in the sweaty brine,
contingent in thick solution,
studied in this specific heat—
what energy it takes to raise
a mass, even one degree:
depends upon the ratio of salt.

What lifts—surfaces—fathoms
the hoary stillness, necessary rot
at the base of the escarpment:
up and open-anchored, round
diluvian reaches I do not know
in what manner I will reascend
finally if I will reascend
I cannot rightly say.


Ryan HarperRyan Harper is a visiting assistant professor in New York University’s Religious Studies Program. Some of his recent poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming at Alligator Juniper, American Journal of Poetry, bioStories, Mississippi Review, Appalachian Heritage, Berkeley Poetry Review, Killing the Buddha, and elsewhere. Ryan’s ethnography of southern gospel music will appear via the University Press of Mississippi in 2017, and his poetry chapbook, Memphis Left at Cairo (2013), is available through Finishing Line Press.


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